Steel Empire (originally released as Koutetsu Teikoku (鋼鉄帝国?) in Japan, and otherwise known in various English materials as The Steel Empire or Empire of Steel) is a side-scrolling shoot 'em up video game released on the Sega Genesis / Mega Drive home consoles in 1992, and was later ported to the Nintendo Game Boy Advance in 2004.
Steel Empire is notable amongst shoot 'em up games for its unique aesthetic designs. Mostly low-tech in nature, with its being set in the late-19th century of an alternate world, the game's aircraft, weaponry, powerups, environments, enemies and bosses are heavily stylized adding strong steampunk elements to the style, themes and visuals of the game. Steam power, propeller-based aircraft, biplanes, dirigibles and heavily armored steam trains with giant cannons play large roles in the game's protagonists and opponents.
The original leaked Japanese arcade beta version (now rare and the source code of which is believed lost), the popular Mega Drive version and the GBA remake were all critically well received.
Steel Empire is a multi-directional scrolling shooter. Gameplay is linear in that the player is restricted to flying in only one direction, and the player will meet enemies in a predesignated order. However, unlike many scrolling shooters, Steel Empire allows the player to fire from behind as well as ahead. Players are given a certain number of lives and continues, with higher difficultly levels granting more continues but with fewer lives per continue. If the player's ship's health is completely depleted a life is subtracted, with play continuing normally. If all lives are lost (including the "zeroeth" life) the player must use a continue, which will restart at either the beginning or midpoint of a stage depending on how far the player was when they continued; as such, the stages are divided into "A" and "B" sections for purposes of the high score table. Continuing also zeroes the player's score. When all continues are expended, the game is over.
The game has a steampunk-inspired setting, during the year "18XX" of the "Age of Steel", "an age almost familiar". In the earlier game materials, this is explained as being the 19th century of an alternate history. However, in some later game materials, it is explained alternatively as a possible future scenario in which the world has been depleted of resources, forcing most of the world back to steam power. Most materials, including the original Japanese versions, hold the alternate 19th century explanation to be the case. In this "Age of Steel", mammoth, floating, steam-powered battleships cruise the skies and gigantic armored locomotives carry cannons the size of railway cars. A military coup has occurred in the world's largest city, Dama ("Dama" in Asian markets, "Damd" in English versions) and power-hungry dictator, industrialist and robber baron General Styron ("Styron" in English versions, "Sauron" in Asian markets) rules by brute force and military might, his Goliath-like defenses carrying armor-piercing missiles and lethal aerial mines. With none strong enough to stand up against him, Styron sets his vision of steel and steam on the whole planet.